I must open this article with an apology. About a year ago I set out to start covering more pro wrestling on this site including reviews, opinion pieces and more. Sadly due to a lot of wrestling quietening down thanks to the pandemic and the tragic bombshell that was the speaking out movement, I lost all motivation to talk about the industry I once loved. Much like any pro wrestler trying to convince the world they’re actually retired though, I wasn’t fooling anybody and I’m back onboard baby!
Not that I believe the landscape is that much better now but there are a lot of positives to talk about and as is always the case, a lot of negatives too. I’m going to go through every major promotion and give them a star rating (I made the graphics so I might as well use them) out of 5 on how good I think the product currently is. If you enjoy this return to wrestling writing then make sure to let me know and I’ll be back with more. Until then let’s jump into which promotions are killing it and which promotions are just killing themselves..
Starting with the market leaders (whether we like it or not), WWE are the stick which a lot of general wrestling fans get beaten with whenever talking to someone who doesn’t watch this bizarre form of entertainment. It would be all too easy to just go straight for WWE’s throat, and don’t worry I will, but I want to start on a positive and that’s this year’s WrestleMania. Sure it was far from perfect but to my surprise there were still a handful of matches over the two nights which I really enjoyed and reminded me that with a roster of that size, great matches and stories could still happen for the fed.
The two main events were the undeniable highlights. Sasha Banks vs Bianca Belair felt like a truly historic moment that deserved to headline WWE’s first show back in front of fans, and the Universal Title (still hate that name) Triple Threat was a nice reminder that Daniel Bryan is a once in a generation talent who worked perfectly alongside a well booked Roman Reigns and the returning Edge. Shoutouts are also well deserved for Cesaro v Seth Rollins and Kevin Owens vs Sami Zayn: Part 739. Randy Orton vs The Fiend and Strowman vs Shane McMahon were still harsh reminders of WWE’s god awful booking but for the most part, for one weekend only, WWE was nearly as good as Seth Rollins thinks it is.
Outside of this successful weekend however, the company is still a shitshow for the most part. Judging by the very little I’ve forced myself through, the weekly TV still feels exhausting and a complete waste of everyone’s time unless you’re seven years old. God awful scripted promos led by an out of touch, right wing, borderline human rights abuser is still slowly killing an extremely talented roster as well as the company as a whole. Fans over the past decade have abandoned the company in droves and they now rely on their most loyal apologists to keep the ratings somewhat respectable. Add to that the recent batch of releases on the one year anniversary of Black Wednesday, making it the second time Vince and Co have released talent during a pandemic (despite the record sale of the WWE Network to Peacock) and it’s still abundantly clear that despite a decent WrestleMania, WWE is still the same dull and scummy promotion it’s shown itself to be for the past decade plus. Yes you can still see great matches a few times a year, but for me the trade off is not worth it. 2 Stars.
Recommended match of 2021: Daniel Bryan vs Edge Vs Roman Reigns
WWE’s little brother was once seen as a more exciting and edgy alternative to the big corporate kids show it was born to oppose but sadly since the emergence of AEW, they look to be heading down a very similar path to the main roster. Make no mistake, NXT is a much more entertaining product than either Raw or Smackdown but desperately trying to keep up with AEW has meant big matches have been spunked up the wall way too quickly and an overreliance on great talents such as Johnny Gargano and Adam Cole has resulted in some of the most loved NXT talent now feeling boring and stale.
Who would be the next big indie talent through the door was once one of NXT’s most exciting factors, however it now feels as if newer talent is hindering the show as much as helping it. Eli Drake, now known as LA Knight, feels like somebody who fits into WWE’s aesthetic way more than NXT’s and it shows. Guys like Karrion Kross and Dexter Lumis feel like a far cry from when NXT was selling out arenas to hot crowds led by the likes of Samoa Joe, Asuka, Shinsuke Nakamura and a fresh Undisputed Era. Sure they still have unbelievable talent including the likes of Adam Cole, Io Shirai, MSK, Grizzled Young Vets, Raquel González, Kyle O’Reilly, Roderick Strong, Finn Balor, Ember Moon, KUSHIDA, Pete Dunne and so SO many more which results in some fantastic matches. Unfortunately the subpar weekly TV has left me feeling a little bored of seeing some of these names, and that’s a tragedy.
Ending on a positive note, we’re not that far removed from the amazing Takeover days of old and the aforementioned roster is more than good enough to get back to those good old days. The recent classic between WALTER and Tomasso Ciampa is a prime example of how quickly this roster can turn popular opinion on the brand by churning out 4-5 star classics on the regular. Fingers crossed the move to Tuesday nights means they can get back to putting on great wrestling rather than worrying about blocking the opposition with short term quickfire booking. 3 Stars.
Recommended match of 2021: WALTER vs Tomasso Ciampa
Even though AEW have been around for a good 2 years now, they still feel like the new kids on the block and thanks to an exciting and well crafted weekly TV product, they’re also the cool kids who everyone else seems envious of, even if they don’t want to admit it.
Week in and week out AEW Dynamite has delivered a perfect balance of excellent wrestling matches, new characters and incredible long term storytelling which has been a rarity in America for a long time. On the surface you might mistake AEW for being an overly athletic and violent indie-like show, but I can almost guarantee you that if you stick with it for a few episodes then you’ll find yourself quickly addicted to multiple storylines that weave seamlessly between one and other and often end with a satisfying payoff.
They have also set the standard when it comes to working with outside companies. AEW storylines have crossed over with both Impact Wrestling and to a lesser extent, NJPW and they don’t look like stopping there. Current AEW World Champion Kenny Omega seems hell-bent on kicking down the so-called forbidden door and opening the wrestling world up to work together rather than against each other.
Unscripted promos have meant talent such as Jon Moxley, Eddie Kingston and MJF have changed the game entirely when it comes to mainstream wrestling in the west and the smart use of legendary talent like Chris Jericho, Sting and now Christian has resulted in more eyes on the product. Exciting young talent such as Darby Allin, Rey Fenix and Jungle Boy then show new viewers in ring action like they’ve never seen before. It’s a formula that feels like it’s really working.
There are of course some big negatives with AEW that I refuse to ignore. Embarrassing moments such as the hilarious botched ending to the barbed wire deathmatch and some disastrous live matches involving young talent who were put on TV way too early is a clear sign of inexperience for the new company. It’s also worth noting that their women’s division was piss poorly booked for a very long time and is only now beginning to look like something that could one day rival WWE and NXT’s excellent women’s roster.
I do feel though that the positives for AEW hugely outweigh the negatives right now and even the episodes of Dynamite that I class as bad are probably still 6/10’s. I’m excited for fans to come back in full so we can see the culmination of character arcs for the likes of Hangman Page, MJF, Britt Baker and loads more. I also fully expect ratings to start reflecting the quality of the show now that AEW have run NXT off Wednesday nights, effectively winning the Wednesday night wars. As things stand, the future is AEW, and guess what? So is the present. 4.5 Stars.
Recommend match of 2021: Kenny Omega v Rey Fenix (Jan 6th)
It’s not long ago at all that NJPW was my favourite wrestling promotion by a country mile. It saddens me to admit that since the turn of the year, the quality of New Japan has taken a nosedive. A lot of people will point to the Elite leaving as the beginning of the end and maybe they’re right. For me though it’s been more clear than ever this past year that after reaching the end of some long term stories, Gedo seems to be out of ideas.
There’s no arguing that the quality of wrestling is still top notch, in fact they still have the best wrestlers in the world for me, but some bizarre decisions have made it harder and harder to appreciate the in-ring work. Whether it’s sticking the dual Heavyweight and Intercontinental titles on EVIL or the even weirder decision to ditch those belts entirely (along with the history that comes with them) for the current eyesore we have now, NJPW seems to be clutching at straws to get eyes back on their product. The weirdest move of them all though came with Will Ospreay dropping his missus on her head despite his controversial involvement in the speaking out movement before being booked to go on and win that ugly world title. All of this has just made New Japan feel a little out of touch and despite an incredible Wrestle Kingdom this past January, I just don’t feel the same passion I once did.
There’s still time for all this to change. Much like NXT, we’re not far removed at all from the glory days and the roster is still crammed full of legendary talent such as Tetsuya Naito, Kazuchika Okada, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kota Ibushi, Jay White, Minoru Suzuki, Shingo Takagi and loads more! How can this roster ever not be the best?! Sort it out Gedo. It is worth noting some unfortunate circumstances such as another injury blow to Hiromu Takahashi and the pandemic minimising the overseas talent they can bring in to help liven things up but the product is still not good enough by their usual high standards. I’m sure once the G1 starts up I’ll be right back on the New Japan hype train but only time will tell! 3.5 Stars.
Recommended Match: Kota Ibushi vs Jay White (WrestleKingdom)
I did want to jump into NOAH, DDT and any potential return of a Britwres scene but I’ve already gone way over the word count I was aiming for so maybe I’ll come back to that. If you want more wrestling discussion then make sure to let us know by hitting us up on twitter @RespawningUK and I’ll get back to you!